“What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?” is a question that I rarely get asked even though many people experiencing health problems are in the early stages of adrenal fatigue and for those with chronic health and fatigue problems possibly in the more serious stages of adrenal fatigue. People don’t ask the question because it can be hard to associate the many symptoms that adrenal fatigue can cause back to the adrenal glands.
While treating individual symptoms can be helpful and provide short term relief, if you do want to achieve real wellness it is important to treat the underlying causes to your health issue and adrenal fatigue could be one of them, so read on and find out what the adrenals actually do and what happens when they are placed under too much stress.
The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and are important for the regulation of stress and inflammation. Many people can relate to the “fright or flight” response when you get an adrenaline rush due to a frightening encounter, well that is the responsibility of the adrenal glands. In nature this “fright or flight” response is natural and does not happen constantly, but in modern life when the body is subjected to constant low grade stress this is when an imbalance can occur. The adrenals also produce testosterone, estrogen, dhea and cortisol which are a group of hormones that produce a wide range of actions in the body, and as we will find out if they are out of balance a wide range of symptoms can occur.
The main hormone the adrenal glands produce is called cortisol and it has a wide range of activities including maintaining blood sugar levels, mobilizing fat and protein for energy, anti-inflammatory actions and will also help control your nervous system. All these actions are a good thing and are controlled by the body so that things stay in a nice balance.
What happens though when chronic physical or mental stress cause excessive cortisol secretion? More of a good thing is not always better.
Adrenal fatigue is not caused by simple getting sick or one or two night’s poor sleep or a bit of extra overtime at work but it is caused by these things if they happen repeatedly and become chronic in nature. Adrenal fatigue is caused by illness, infections, poor diet and especially a diet high in processed foods or refined carbohydrates, insomnia, depression, excessive exercise, high stress and long work hours.
So if you are working long hours in a stressful job while eating a poor diet and not sleeping well your stress levels will be high leading to high cortisol, high cortisol will cause inflammation and muscle breakdown …. this might seem like an extreme case but adrenal exhaustion can also be caused by years of poor diet which can lead to more illnesses or depression which in turn leads to high cortisol.
The symptoms of adrenal fatigue make a very long list as they can upset nearly every body function creating and imbalance, I will list a few of the common ones below.
There are three stages to adrenal fatigue and depending on diet, lifestyle and other illnesses you may have, will depend on how long it will take to move from one stage to the next. Many people could be in the first or second stage of adrenal fatigue for years and just put their symptoms down to getting older or stress without knowing the two tiny adrenal glands are responsible.
During stage one cortisol is elevated and most people can function normally but feel not quite right. Symptoms include fatigue especially in the afternoon and when waking up, craving sugar and caffeine to get going and possibly sleep disturbances. For many people this high caffeine, processed food diet is normal and even the tiredness and fatigue that goes with it becomes normal so people don’t realize how good they can feel.
Chronic stress, the adrenals are struggling to produce enough cortisol and the levels start to drop to low. Fatigue can get worse lasting most of the day and insomnia is common, weight increases with fluctuating blood sugar levels. Anxiety, stress and that feeling of overwhelm increases. Thyroid issues can start to develop making energy worse and for women pms can also get worse.
Adrenal exhaustion! Cortisol levels decline and fatigue turns into exhaustion, as well as chronic fatigue like symptoms and the body can experience a lot more pain. Poor immune system, insomnia and depression are common. This third stage is when people really struggle to get through the day, life becomes a “battle”, even at this stage adrenal exhaustion can be confused with many different conditions or put down to simply depression.
How do I fix adrenal exhaustion? In the next article I will discuss how to diagnose and treat adrenal exhaustion.
Click Here to read the next article on how to treat Adrenal Fatigue
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen